Wednesday, January 27, 2010


“If you’re going in the opposite direction, you really don’t have to give me a ride.”

“No, I insist!” he said. “I have lots of time. Do you know the word, nonbiri? It means living the slow life.”

“Nonbiri – the slow life – I like that!”

So Uchida-san threw his Suzuki into gear and pulled a u-turn; we headed West. The area is famous for its delicious deer burgers so I asked if we could stop to try one. We each had one from “Cowberry.” a roadside service centre restaurant. Sometimes the slow life involves fast food.


Uchida-san proved to be excellent company and the winding mountain roads afforded spectacular views.



Taking our time exploring picturesque vistas and highway service stations, we eventually arrived in Abashiri, my destination for the day. I thanked Uchida-san with a piece of Native-Canadian art I’d picked up at a little Canadian specialty shop in Tokyo. (Imported is still authentic, right?) He bowed, got back in his Suzuki, and headed back the way we’d come.

I heard that word, nonbiri, from many Hokkaidans on the trip. The island bears a stark contrast to Tokyo, whose residents work too much, sleep too little, and don’t have much time to really enjoy life.

Everyone together now, take a breath.

In …………

Out ………


Wednesday, January 20, 2010



It was perhaps the shortest teaching contract in history -- 45 minutes and I’d be on the road again. The teacher, Arakawa-sensei, was grateful for my help though, and he paid me handsomely in dried fish snacks.

Jack Handy is known for saying that the face of a child can say it all. Especially the mouth part of the face.

You’ll find, however, that the mouth part of the face can sometimes not say it all, especially when that face is Japanese and the desired speech includes the English ‘v’, ‘th’, or ‘r’.

“Pronounce: arrive there

“Alaibu zeah”

“Arrive there”

“Alaibu zeah”

“Uh … good!”

In this classroom, however, “interesting” pronunciation was largely overlooked in the name of making English FUN.

Arawkawa-sensei explained to me that most teachers think the main objective of beginner language courses should be a basic understanding of grammar and vocabulary.

“Sure, those are important,” he told me, “ but they can come later. They’re just kids! I don’t want them to go home and tell their parents about past and future tense -- I want them to report how fantastically fun it is to learn a new language!”

And in the fun department, Arakawa-sensei’s classes are an unqualified success. His enthusiasm and energy are infectious. As a student of mathematics I can attest that the following classroom poll is statistically significant by any measure:

“What’s your favourite subject?”

[in unison] “English!”



“Tell me again?”


With Arakawa-sensei running the show and I as his sidekick, we taught a fun, lively class. We only covered the days of the week and the names of some school subjects, but who cares? The kids were left smiling and laughing, their passion for English stronger than ever.


After class, as the kids were leaving for a break, two voices stood out – an impromptu game had started:


“Math, phys-ed!”

“Math, phys-ed, art!”

“Math, phys-ed, art, … … ehh … …”

On my way out I whispered to him. Physics.

“Math, phys-ed, art, Fee-Zee-Ku-Su!!”